Wouldn’t you like to listen to songs on the radio and then be able to follow with your piano what you hear on the radio? The key to doing this is to learn to play the piano by chords - learning to play the piano using the chord method.

There are a lot of chords out there and a lot of variations thereof. But the basic chords that you will find in every type of music are the major and minor chords. These are also known as major and minor triads, due to the fact that they consist of three notes each.

The key to learning piano chords is to start with the fundamentals – from first principles, which is – learn first major and minor piano scales. You see once you know how to play major and minor scales it becomes easy to learn piano chords.

There are 12 major scales on the piano, but the principle to forming them is the same for each key and each key will consist of 7 unique notes. For example, in the key of Cmajor the scale will be: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C these major scales sound the same as when you are singing “do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do.

Now, for every chord that exists, there is a formula to it. For major chords the formula is: 1-3-5 and for a minor chord is: 1-b3-5(the “b3” just means that you flatten the third note. Let’s say we want to form a C major chord, what you do is take the major scale of C and the convert it to numbers, that is, C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C=1-2-3-4-5-6-7. Now C major chord=1-3-5=C-E-G. Congratulations you have just learned a C major chord. This C-E-G just means that these are the notes that you will press down with your hand on the piano to play the chord. Note also that there are various ways to play any chords. If a chord has 3 notes, it means that it can be played in 3 different ways and if it has four notes, then it can be played 4 different ways. The chord we have just formed has 3 notes; hence it can be played four different ways, i.e. C-E-G, E-C-G and C-G-E. The method of playing these chords like this is called chord inversions.

Basically to learn piano chords, you start learning piano scales then chords then progressions (songs). Once you begin to learn and practice, forming piano chords will be second nature to you, you will eventually play them without thinking. With you chords you can harmonise melodies to you favourite songs using chord inversions. When using chords to play songs will make your songs sound fuller.


This debate has gone on for far too long. The are advantages and disadvantages for both types of playing. Classical musician would prefer sheet music while gospel musician would prefer playing by ear. This is probably due to the fact that classical pianist perform with an orchestra, which is a very formalised art form and as a pianist or violinist you are not allowed to improvise and do your own variation of what the orchestra is playing, whereas a gospel musician for example plays more by inspiration and there is usually not sheet music before hence he will be more inclined to improvise as long as the improvisation is within the framework and parameter of what the band as a whole is playing.

Disadvantages of using sheet music

People who depend solely on sheet music to play tunes usually cannot improvise. Someone else has already improvised for them via the sheet music. Usually these types of musicians cannot accompany a vocalist and usually struggle to learn simple tunes like “happy birthday” on their own, they do not play by ear, and they play by what is written before them.

Advantages of using sheet music

People who use sheet music, usually have good technique. They don’t just bang their fingers on the piano, but they play with technique. On the music sheet itself, you have to play notes a certain way, either loud or soft, slow or fast. It is an awe to watch a classical pianist play, especially when they play scales.Classical musician who read sheet music tend to become great jazz musicians because of all the technical skills they learn while using sheet music.

Disadvantages of playing by ear

Many bands or groups usually use sheet music to play. Sometimes bands don’t practice and may depend on sheet music only during their live performances. If you cannot read in such a setup, you can’t play. People who play by ear can’t play with an orchestra because they can’t read sheet music.

Advantages of playing by ear

People who play by ear can hear a song on the radio and immediately follow it on their instrument. In a live situation they can accompany a vocalist easily, even if they hadn’t rehearsed a particular song before. They are able to improvise on the spot using their creativity and ability to hear.



Note that if a chord has 3 notes, it means it can be played 3 different ways. This means that a C major chord(C-E-G) can be played in 3 different ways.

That is, you can play this chord in the following ways:

1. C-E-G (Called a root inversion, the C note is on the left)

2. G-C-E (Called a 2nd inversion, the C note is in the middle)

3. E-G-C (Called a 1st inversion, the C note is on top)

For a C minor chord:

1. C-Eb-G (Called a root inversion, the C note is on the left)

2. G-C-Eb (Called a 2nd inversion, the C note is in the middle)

3. Eb-G-C (Called a 1st inversion, the C note is on top)

What do I do now?

Well begin to practice your inversions for all the major and minor chords in all 12 keys until you are comfortable in playing them.

Here is a list of all the major and minor chord inversions, master these and you will be well set to be on your way to playing songs.(M=major; m=minor). Practice these on the piano each day.


Well, that’s a peace of cake!

Let’s use the major key of C as an example:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7

C... D...E.....F....G... A....B

On your piano, go to the sixth degree, there you will find the A.

The Aminor scale is the C major scale but starting on the 6th, it uses the same notes, therefore the Am scale= A B C D E F G A (C major scale rearranged).

Now you may ask, where am going with this?

Well let’s do 2 examples

Let’s say someone asked you to give them a Bb minor scale, what would you do?

Remember our table of scales, yes, there is nothing new! Just find in which key is Bb a 6th scale degree on the table. Bb falls on the 6th scale degree in the key of Bb, therefore you would use the notes of the Db major scale to find the Bb minor scale which is:

Now, the Bb minor scale would use these notes but starting on the sixth, i.e.:

Bb C Db Eb F Gb Ab.

Congratulations for reaching this point!

I have spent a lot of time explaining SCALES. Once you master this concept of scales, learning to play piano becomes easy, the only ingredient needed to succeed, would be your time, passion and patience.

Make sure you don’t do to the next section without understanding scales and knowing your scale degrees. It wouldn’t hurt to go through this section once again for the whole concept of scales to sink in.

Note: you don’t have to play your scales like a Mozart before you move to the next section; the most important thing is that you understand this concept of scales. You will master playing scales as you practice.


1. There are 12 major and minor scales

2. There are 8 notes in each scale

3. RULE for forming major scales is this: when moving from the 3rd degree going the 4th and when moving from the 7th going to the 8th, you only move 1 half step, for the rest of the notes in that scale; you only move 2 half steps/whole steps between them.

4. Learn/practice scales using the order of the circle of fourths.

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